MISTY MEADOWS

 

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As we drove higher and higher into the mountains, the mist got thicker. Visibility was limited to about three meters ahead. Quite suddenly, rain started pelting down heavily, blinding us even more. The pounding of raindrops fused with Jamie Lawson crooning, “I wasn’t expecting that…” Music within and without, with a similar cadence. It was the most surreal drive of my life and I certainly wasn’t expecting that. The road was narrow and steep; and opened up to the valley on either side. All we had to lead us further was the faint blink of lights from the car ahead of us. That’s exactly how the past few months had been; hazy and blatantly exigent.

At some point though, the fog always clears. And so finally, after an interminable wait, things had started falling into place. Life makes you wait, testing your patience, your faith, your strength. It makes you doubt everything that you might have trained yourself to believe in. And then suddenly, like a burst of unexpected rain, the abundance showers right down on your startled head.

We had left the city behind and headed to the hills on an impulse. It was an impromptu plan and one that made me want to live the rest of my life in that manner – purely spontaneous and unpremeditated. We arrived at Misty Meadows just as dusk was settling in. A warm, welcoming glow radiated from idyllic houses that lined the streets. Life seemed tranquil and quiet on those moorlands. We spent that evening devoid of distractions. There was no WiFi and no telly, just words and smiles floating around. After a simple meal, we retired to the bedrooms upstairs. The river in the distance was beautiful in the twilight. We could spot cars parked on the bridge over the river and made up stories about clandestine affairs and romantic conversations, giggling our way into the silly night.

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The next morning, I woke up at dawn. It was still dark outside when I wandered onto the terrace, shivering slightly but soothingly warmed by the silence. The moon was hanging in the sky like a neatly clipped fingernail, obscured now and then by the pregnant clouds. As I lingered, the sun came up unseen and the silhouette of the meadows appeared through the brooding mist. It was the most beautiful morning I’d had in a long time.

It was after breakfast that we had embarked upon that haunting drive. Later, as we stumbled upon rocks and puddles, walked on lush meadows and gazed upon verdant hills, I realized how close we had come to God in those few hours. All my five senses seemed numbed, but there was a sixth sense that seemed sharper than the five put together. A divine presence was everywhere, in every detail.  Half-encumbered in this realization and sloshed by the weight I’d been carrying around, I plonked down on a rock. Fatigue mingled with raindrops and rolled down my back, leaving me cleansed and a little narcotized.

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This whole experience was much like what the Japanese call ‘Shinrin-yoku’ or ‘Forest Bathing’. It was first proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan to promote a good lifestyle and is now a recognized stress management activity in Japan. My fascination for Japanese culture is now bordering on reverence, almost threatening to override my absolute fascination for the Tuscan way of life. It’s comically strange because they seem absolutely converse. Tuscans are voluble while the Japanese are more muted; but if you make a reduction, the essence that it boils down to is very similar:  Simplicity.

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Growing up, I had the good fortune to experience ‘Shinrin-yoku’ often. Hardened by city life though, we become impertinent and that’s why it is absolutely important to make an effort to get dwarfed by nature and humble ourselves from time to time. It is in such moments that we find moments of clarity and direction. It is then that we are filled with hope. And from nature, we learn the one great lesson: to trust the timing of our life.

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YOLO LEGACY

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We carry within us the wonders we seek without us – Thomas Browne

Once grandpa brought home a tiger cub; it was sometime in the late 1930s. He was walking home through the forest, spotted a lone cub, thought it was abandoned and decided to adopt it. Needless to say, he got a good spanking at home and was forced to return the cub where he got it from. That was how grandpa was until the day he died – impulsive, adorable and full of childlike curiosity.

Every summer, when it got too hot in the city, we packed our bags and went to live with grandpa and grandma. They lived in a modest home deep in the valleys of rural Mangalore in South India. That was our ‘vacation.’ It might not have been exotic but it was certainly enriching and well-spent. I adored grandpa and his idiosyncrasies that for me had hidden lessons like little wrapped gifts in a treasure hunt. He would wake up at dawn and lovingly sweep the front yard. That was the first thing he did and it was a metaphor for starting the day on a clean slate. As soon as I woke up, he would hand me a small brass pot and drag me to the well. We would draw water together, my small hands covered with his large, calloused ones over the rough rope. He would spend entire mornings watering the plants, admiring the flowers, tending to his vegetable and fruit patch, pointing out the ripe ones and urging me to pick them. This is how he taught me to care and work for what I loved; to appreciate the beauty around me, to have patience and enjoy the rewards when they appeared. Once he hacked open a huge jackfruit with his bare hands and we chomped through the entire thing in one sitting. In today’s lingo it’s called a YOLO day. A day when you indulge yourself because ‘You Only Live Once’. Grandpa lived and breathed the YOLO philosophy, though in a different way. It wasn’t about pigging out on a certain day; it was living life to the full every single day. He exemplified how to nurture the inner child and never let it die.

Grandpa's using headphones for the first time.

Grandpa using headphones for the first time.

On days that he chose to stay home, grandpa would sit on the patio listening to the news on his small portable radio. His sharp brain would absorb every bit of information and it was incredible how much he knew about world affairs. But most days, he would disappear, only to appear in time for our evening prayers. He would waddle down unconcerned down the dark, twisted path that led to our house in the valley. Grandma would keep expressing her disapproval about him roaming around in the dark, but he only just laughed all the time. Sometimes, he came home really late when we were already in bed. Then he would squat on the mattress beside me, turn up the oil lamp a little, recount real life stories in his booming voice and sneak me sweets under the blankets while I hung on to his every word.

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The way life has been pausing and crawling recently has given me new perspectives. Sometimes the rain falls around like it will never stop and quite suddenly the sun comes out and everything is so different. It’s like living in two parallel universes. There are days when all I want to do is wear my escapist garb and crawl into my own skin. On days like that a memory of grandpa and his toothless grin is enough to haul me back. And quite suddenly things become symphonic and perfect. Life breaks free from shackles and appears untethered and free. There’s a beauty in how relationships, past or present, are stitched together into our lives with invisible threads. How what seems so simple can gain so much importance. Grandparents are always taken for granted but someday when they are gone, you realize that they live in parts of you that you didn’t know existed. When you realize that, you quite suddenly fall in love with reminiscences of them, as well as parts of you that they still live in.

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Grandpa didn’t accumulate wealth and heirlooms. But he loved life, indulged his curiosity and laughed nonchalantly. Those are the qualities and lessons he seems to have passed on; a kind of legacy – the YOLO legacy, as I like to call it. What could be more precious than that? When I get excited about picking sea-shells from the shore, write my name on frosty window panes, lose myself in music or laugh out loud at inane jokes, I think of grandpa. On dark days when life seems to be pulling me down and I smile back at it, I hope he’s proud of me. He never preached but set us an example of how to feel wonder at the tiniest thing, how not to live a numb life and how to open ourselves up to the wonder of ‘us’.

UNTAINTED RHYTHM

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To many people holidays are not voyages of discovery, but a ritual of reassurance

– Philip Andrew Adams

April lingered. It was a protracted month with hours that just stretched and stretched. The heat was rabid and sweat clogged my pores. Just as I was about to dissipate, a long weekend happened. We got into our cars and drove, from smooth highways onto rugged dirt roads. I am not big on road travel, especially on hot days when you can’t roll down the windows. It makes me nauseous and irritated. At the end of three hours, tired and somewhat lost, we had begun to curse under our collective breaths. Just then, as if on cue, we arrived and a slow smile spread across my face. There were mountains in the distance, rough backwoods and country soil beckoning to me like a mother’s arms. There are places where you exist. Then there are places that call out your name.

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Those two days were metamorphic on some level. Cellular, spiritual, I am not really sure. But as I wandered around the wilderness and watched the sun set, a kind of slow mutation happened. I let myself be mesmerized, the orange-purple sky lighting up my eyes, the breeze messing up my hair, the voices of loved ones coming as if from a distance, but soothing nonetheless. In the glow of a moonlit sky, we walked back, the bone-dry ground warm under our feet. Later at night, we sang and laughed until our voices were sore. We got intoxicated on food that tasted like the earth. It was surreal and ordinary at the same time.

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The next morning, I woke up revived and with a single-minded purpose – to watch the sunrise. My two partners-in-crime were waiting in the pre-dawn shadows. We ambled along the dusty path slightly out of breath, the red earth staining our shoes, making sure we carry the grains of that soil with us to reminisce later. The sloping knoll covered in a fine mist looked like a Van Gogh painting. We were early or maybe the sun was just teasing us, but we waited patiently to birdsong, as one waits for a bride. And then it came out, peeping at first and suddenly all at once. Our hearts dazzled with its beauty. And time stood still. The wonder of life could be summed up in those few suspended moments. It was untainted rhythm.

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Sometimes, it becomes important to briefly depart from reality, to step away from the blur of a city life. It’s not escapism. It’s just finding an unusual backdrop to adjust our vision. A different sun to light our minds. Rolling hills to balance our hearts. An uncommon breeze to lift the dust from our cobwebbed lives. A deliberate slowing down to regain lost strength. A reminder on how to live minimally in awareness, to enjoy meals served with love and appreciate all that is humble and unpretentious.

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That day, as we prepared to leave, I noticed something. The pieces of me that had come undone were healed again. An unsullied joy had filled up all the cracks and I looked ready with a radiance that was enough to carry me through another storm. It’s only when I find something that puts me back together that I realize I’ve been missing it. That I’ve been waiting for it. That without it my light wouldn’t be the same. Uncertainty still looms over my world, but I choose to ignore it. In this moment, I am full. For now, I am replete.

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OHANA

The house looks poured out, empty. For over a week, it was bursting at the seams. Faces radiant, rooms buzzing with words, bodies moving and colliding, bags stacked against walls, chaos everywhere. Strangely enough, in that chaos floated a kind of stillness. There were moments when people were talking all at once, raucous laughter bounced off walls and what I breathed in was serenity. Family from overseas had arrived home to celebrate the 75th birthday of the family matriarch. Some days are just hallowed and we had a week full of them.

It’s a fact that no matter how much you try, distance makes relationships come undone a little, or totally sometimes. You send messages, make calls on special occasions, and try your best to hold everything together. But sharing meals cooked together in large old pots, kitchen gossip over cups of tea, watching the kids huddled up on makeshift beds, nothing can compare to that. That’s pure sensory overload and touchingly beautiful. What started off as a birthday celebration became the glue that bonded us all back together. We manifested magic in those few days.

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As expected, the birthday party was spectacular. The day shone with epic moments and sparkling tributes. There was singing, dancing and a lot of warm hugs. Mother, whom everyone, young and old, fondly calls ‘Mai’ (which means ‘mother’ in Konkani), was beaming through glistening eyes. Seven kids, their spouses, ten grand kids, extended family, close friends; the vibrations that filled that banquet hall were incredible. These are the memories that fill your heart; these are the ones you talk to posterity about. These are the ones that crack open your existence and help you transcend.

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Everyone has long returned to their homes and I am settled into my world, but yet there are moments when I miss them. The first couple of days, I wandered around in a daze, unsure of how to go back to normalcy. My sister-in-law left behind the kids’ cereal box and bowls and I let them sit just where she left them on my kitchen counter. Little parts of them that made me feel they were still around. When people come into your world, even for a while, they leave remnants. Little smatterings that make everything look different. I don’t know when days like these will return, but there’s hope that what we sowed will bloom time and again. So, now in moments of solitude, I silently send up a prayer to good times – the ones we enjoyed and the ones foreseen. Until then, there’s a fountain of reminiscences to soak in.

There were lots of precious moments, but one memory stands out for me. My nine year old niece, Keira, all dressed to leave for the airport was stirring random chocolaty things that she picked from my larder and refrigerator in a warm bowl. I asked her what she was doing and she replied, “I’m making you a dessert before I leave. This is just for you”. It was so incredibly charming that my heart melted faster than the chocolate in that red bowl. There was so much purity and affection in that little gesture. Keira gave me an intense, beautiful memory to hold for life.

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In Hawaiian culture, ‘ohana’ means family. The term was made famous in the movie, ‘Lilo & Stitch’. There is a scene where Stitch is running away and Lilo in her soft, heartrending voice says: “Ohana means family. Family means ‘no one gets left behind’. But if you want to leave, you can. I’ll remember you though”. That’s what I want to say. To Keira, my ‘Stitch’ and the rest of the family as well. That whether we are together or separated by oceans, we must make sure that we do not forget and no one gets left behind.

Here’s to Ohana. To family.

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A JAR OF FRAGMENTS

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The past few days have been pretty unreal. It’s a post-holiday season break for us, if such a thing exists. Every morning, we rise and let life happen. Most days, we’ve lingered over gratifying meals, caught early morning movie shows, returned home to lazy afternoons and whiled away the evenings nattering with the kids. Considering that New Year’s Eve was spent eating Chinese takeout and watching television in bed, while others partied and grooved under disco balls, I think this little romp around town kind of makes up for it. So yeah, we haven’t let the novelty of a new year pass us by without a celebration of some sort. Not that the first day of the year wasn’t eventful. There were neighbors and family jostling around and clinking glasses. There was easy camaraderie. And later, a warm meal topped with idle banter.

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Just yesterday, we were cruising along the highway, on our way to lunch outside city limits. As I looked out the car window, riveted by the view, it struck me that this is how our lives move. Moments that seem all-important become blurry within no time. In the end, it’s just fragmented memories. But I’m a collector and like the jar of coins I keep by the door, there’s one where I hoard the memories too, fragments and all. On days when there’s nothing to do and not much to look forward to, I bring out the memory jar, fiddle around with the images and draw some hope. And with it the optimism returns, with a raw, renewed energy.

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I’d been taking off on flights of fancy every now and then the past couple of years. But somewhere, sometime, I started climbing into the reveries and living in them. A few things got done last year, but there’s quite a mountain left to scale yet. I’ve been toying around with the idea of a food blog. There are piles and piles of recipes on my bookshelf and in my kitchen drawers. It should happen soon enough. Everything takes time and for someone like me, getting warmed up to anything, be it people, places, change, ideas takes exceptionally long. But once that’s done, I embrace fully.

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Our little slob around is coming to an end. Another couple of days we shall loiter and then the monotony will return. Order will prevail on most days, but it’s the chaos I shall look forward to. In the depths of chaos, I always find harmony. Hidden in imperfections, I always find excellence. The disarray is what leads me to lucidity. For the less chaotic days, there’s always the jar to go back to.

This is how the days unravel. This is how my new year begins in earnest.

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THE WAY WILDFLOWERS GROW

wildflowers02It seems like another lifetime when I was standing barefoot in cool spring water, marveling at exotic, virgin wildflowers. They fascinated and inspired me. The way they grew indiscriminately, in random places. The way their beauty shone. And all of a sudden, I wanted to be like that; to grow unforeseen, in ways no one expected. It gave me a vision and I brooded on it for days. As the year comes to a close, I’m revisiting that moment and sharing it with you. Because letting yourself grow is the best New Year’s gift you can give yourself.

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The last post was supposed to be my final one for 2014. But I couldn’t resist another one; a little something to end the year with. It’s just that I’m so full right now. There’s pure joy, genuine appreciation and indefinable eagerness. When you’re so filled to the brim, it’s bound to spill a bit. And, why not?

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Christmas was beautiful as usual. The home was speckled with sounds and smells. My overworked little oven emitted tantalizing buttery aromas that wafted out windows and into corridors. Flour was everywhere, over kitchen counters, under my nails, in my hair. Lights twinkled and magic flowed into every empty space. And then there were the neighbourhood kids. They thronged my living room every evening, essentially for carol practice. But honestly speaking they sang less, jabbered more, squabbled even more. I feigned annoyance and made threats but the truth is they were the balm to my tired soul.

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I love that Christmas comes at the end of the year. The exultation that this season brings just washes away all the tears and pain and disappointments of the months gone by. It’s impossible to feel anything but triumphant and joyous. That’s the kind of sentiment you need to embark upon a brand new year.

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At the end of every year, I like to separate the red, blue, green and yellow blocks, take stock and make plans. But this isn’t a perfect Lego life. And perfect it shouldn’t be. Like my little nephew, Ethan, I just want to fix the pieces together intuitively without thinking too much. Logic can take you from A to B. But intuition can take you anywhere. I read that somewhere. That’s how I want to go forward.

I shall continue to share my victories and failures with you. As I go along, gingerly testing new paths or merrily treading familiar ones, you’re welcome to join me all the way, drop out mid-way or come and go as you please. Together or alone, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this: That like those wildflowers we stay true to our identity. That we grow freely in beauty and joy. That we celebrate ourselves.

Here’s wishing you all a brilliant 2015! Believe fiercely that the best is yet to come.

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A LEGACY OF LOVE

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Reveries are good, but you can’t stay there forever. All week, I’d been waiting for inspiration.Something, anything, to rouse and stir me. The days weren’t empty, far from it; yet there were gaps. Lacklustre little gaps that struggled to let the light in; that demanded reality. As the seasons move, I recognize the need for alteration and change.

So it seemed appropriate that my sister-in-law suggested a trip to the tranquil Fr. Agnel’s church in Bandra, to commemorate Papa’s fifth death anniversary. Tucked away from the bustle of the city, the timeworn church sits serene amidst sounds of birds and seas. Inside, the air is old and dark and luminous all at once. You feel primal and pristine. Ancient, yet improved. It’s the kind of place where you reclaim yourself. Later, we visited The Shanti Avedna Cancer Home, a few blocks away. I was reluctant to go at first, but it turned out to be one of the most calming places I have ever visited. Peace and love grace those quiet hallways; abundantly so, and certainly enough to alter a little something inside you.

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I don’t know why exactly my sister-in-law chose these two places, but once I went there, they took on significance for me. Both the places toned with Papa’s personality. Sturdy and serene. Quiet and assertive. And most of all, filled to the brim with love. Four years ago, on his first death anniversary, I had tried to encapsulate Papa’s substantial life story into a few words.

This is probably how inspiration is found. In little things, in modest lives, in unpretentious people. So here I am, repeating that same story. Maybe it will touch you and stimulate you. Maybe it will take care of your gaps. Maybe it will just remind you of things you have forgotten. And in reminding you, I will reminisce myself.

This is the story of Papa, my father-in-law. A man I’m proud to have known.

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It was towards the end of 2009 that Papa got diagnosed with throat cancer. He was old and not very strong physically, but he had an amazing strength of mind. When we told him the doctors had advised radiation, he just accepted it without question or complaint. I do not know another person who has borne such intense pain with so much dignity and silence.

The agony went on for days. And then, God decided that a man so gallant deserved to be in a better place. Just as the sun went down on Monday, the 23rd of November, 2009, Papa moved on to a higher life.

Anyone who knew Papa would agree that he was one of a kind; a man of great integrity, honesty and self-respect. He raised seven wonderful children in his lifetime, saw them settle down into their careers and marriages, enjoyed his ten grandkids and celebrated everything with a cryptic smile on his face. Since he spoke very little, he was never the centre of attraction; but his presence and his personality always stood out even in the midst of a crowd.

Many people find it hard to believe when told by his very successful children, that Papa had been a taxi driver all his life. Those were times of extreme hardship and abject poverty. If he failed go out and sit behind the wheel even one day, the family was affected. So Papa went out and worked every single day, come rain or thunderstorm.

One thing always struck me tremendously and it still does. Whenever my husband or his siblings speak about their seemingly deprived childhood, they only have positive and happy memories.  How could they have been so content, I wondered, when they had so little? No fancy home, no branded clothes, no colourful toys…and yet their childhood had been filled with laughter and love. Papa couldn’t provide them with expensive things, but he gave them love, family ties and values which have held them in good stead to this day.

Papa left us with many valuable lessons, precious memories and a legacy of love, family bonding and integrity. The day after his burial, we all sat late into the night talking about what we learnt from him. And the lessons were many; not only from his life, but from his death as well.  Even in death, Papa brought his family closer.

For more than a week afterwards, when we clung together supporting each other, we questioned ourselves, talked endlessly, strengthened our bonds, ate and prayed together and made little resolutions in our hearts to love and live well. Finally, we had realized what was most important to us.

Life knows and it tells us more than we care to understand. Not many of us think of death while we are busy living. But when we lose someone dear to us, God might be sending us a reminder. A reminder to pause in the midst of all the chaos, go within and find our essence.

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